Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jason watches THE WIND

I first saw this back in 2009 at the SF Silent Film Festival. Here's what I said back then:
The feature was a Lillian Gish drama, THE WIND. This was Gish's last silent film, and the last film in Hollywood for Swedish director Victor Sjöström [note: credited as Victor Seastrom].  When it was released (in 1928), it was critically mixed and a commercial flop, and ended Gish's relationship with MGM. However, she got the last laugh when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993. Gish always talked about how this was her hardest film to make, and well in to her 80's and 90's (she lived to be just short of 100) she was touring with this film and others. In those tours the accompanist was the acclaimed organist Dennis James. For the performance last Saturday, the accompanist was also acclaimed organist Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer, plus sound effects artists on two wind machines (plus a few other effects, like a cap gun that did a great job of making the audience jump). By the way, Dennis performed for two films of the festival, but was in the audience watching the other 10 (for at least a few, in the row right behind me). He's a fan, he's very personable, and told some funny stories about Lillian Gish (like how she advised him never to get married). He's not just a great musician and silent film accompanist, he's officially a cool guy.

Now (finally) to the film. Gish plays Letty, a girl from Virginia who's moving out to Texas to live on her cousin's ranch. While still on the train, the fierce winds appear as a character as much as a force of nature. When she arrives, as the beautiful new lady in town she attracts the attention of all the neighbors. That's not so bad. The bad thing is she attracts the wrath of her cousin's wife, Cora. She's not just jealous of the attention her children pay to Letty, she's jealous of the attention her husband pays to her (um...nothing happens. And gross, they're cousins!) She's kicked out of the house with no place to live and the relentless wind driving her madder and madder every minute. She agrees to marriage, but it's a loveless marriage of convenience. At least, it's loveless on her end, he loves her but she's disgusted by him. In a way, her home becomes a prison with the wind as the ever watchful guard (there, I kept the prison theme going one more movie!) Well, there's a climax with yet another suitor who just can't give her up no matter how married she is, and finally she learns to love the wind (after all, any force of nature that will bury a body is a friend of mine).

The version of THE WIND we saw had a happy ending, but an original ending--with Letty going mad and walking off into the wind--is rumored to exist (and there are also rumors that the original "going crazy and walking off into the desert ending is just a rumor and never existed).
Well, other than the fact that we "only" had Dennis James on the Wurlitzer last Friday, no wind machines or cap guns, it's still pretty much as I said before. Although this time, I picked up a little more tenderness from her for her suitors (and her eventual husband.) She is definitely (although innocently) flirting with them ever so slightly. And the fact is, she didn't enter the marriage intending for it to be loveless. She just figured it would take a little time for her to warm up to him. The key scene for me was when he tried to push himself on her too quickly and she says, "Oh, now you made me hate you. I didn't want to hate you." That scene figured much more prominently in my reading this time. Interesting how the same movie can feel slightly different every time you see it.

Running Time: 81 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,392

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